— -- Days before his historic visit to the U.S., Pope Francis made global headlines today, announcing that this Jubilee Year of Mercy for Catholics around the world "excludes no one," specifically women who have had abortions.
The pope declared that he would allow priests in this forthcoming Year of Mercy to absolve women of the sin of abortion, if they repent "with contrite heart." The Year of Mercy reportedly runs from Dec. 8 and until Nov. 20, 2016.
In a letter released today, the pontiff said that he was aware that there are many women who feel they had no choice but to get an abortion.
"I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision," he said. "I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. ... I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal."
While saying that God's forgiveness could not be denied to those who repent, the Vatican in a statement today made it clear that forgiveness for abortion did not mean the church condoned it.
That sentiment was echoed Monday, during a virtual audience with Americans chosen from all over the U.S. via satellite. The event was moderated from inside the Vatican by ABC News anchor David Muir and included groups from three different U.S. cities: Chicago, Los Angeles and McAllen, Texas.
In Los Angeles, Rosemary Farfan, 31, shared with the pontiff her struggles as a single mother to daughters Alyssa, 11, and Celeste, 8.
She told ABC News that she and her daughters had stayed at Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women and Children until June. The shelter, a program of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, had helped the trio find an apartment and get back on their feet.
"It hasn't been easy for me. I've made some mistakes as a person, as a mother," Farfan said. "I've felt guilty at times and ashamed. ... But every day, I try and I hope and I pray."
Pope Francis thanked her and then offered her a personal message, saying he was aware of the plight of single mothers and encouraging her to hold her head high.
"I know it's not easy to be a single mother. I know that people can sometimes look askance at you," the pope said. "You're a brave woman because you're capable of bringing these two daughters into the world. ... You respected the life you were carrying inside you and God is going to reward you for that and he does reward for you for that. Don't be ashamed. ... I congratulate you."
After the session, Rosemary Farfan told ABC News said she was leaving "with some healing" in her heart as well as some courage.
"When he said my name, I thought that was beautiful," she said. "I was so honored. ... I just want to stay positive."